Mar 2, 2013

Manufacturing Plant

"Because it's messy, yes, this mess is mine...
Look we've had similar stitches.
Look we have similar frowns.
Do the elderly couples still kiss and hug and
grab their  big wrinkly skin so  tough
wrinkly wrink, wrink wrinkly rough?"
---Animal Collective

All the burping pooping pissing crying
babies sleep lined up in incubators
like rows of boxes on shelves,
so bring a forklift.
Wear a hardhat.
Snotty and screaming when he falls in the alley
running from a few bigger kids shouting FAGGOT!
Quiet in class all day because all of a sudden
there’s blood in her underpants.
Painting with mom in the lanai.
Wheat field sunset golds in through white curtains:
sometimes life’s idyllic like that, and
sometimes it’s confusion.
Side by side in bed lights off
and neither of us have nothing to say--
we say nothing nonetheless.
Pent up anger.
Shoes off after a long day of work,
armchair ottoman beverage.
Through the windows,
adults pace lined up in apartments
like rows of boxes on shelves,
so bring a good book to read.
Wear your comfiest clothes.
Earth spitting up life
volcanic vagina;
everything emerges
then crumples.
Balled up tissues
flaked off on flaking face.
Everything emerges
then crumples.
Blades of grass on bare back.
These hands are wrinkling,
so bring an iron.
Press us smooth again.
The bark of a tree tells us
we never were.
Slide a peeler down a newborn’s forearm—
not so smooth now, is it?
Just all gushy.
The earth bulges
foot kicking elbow jabbing
like cats fighting in a sack.
Lumpy lumps lump roiling
toss her off her axis.
Volcanic vagina spitting up life.
Everything emerges then crumples:
wear a hardhat
or crack your skull and sternum open and
live exposed and throbbing to every trauma.
Let lightning enter your chest.
Xacto knife your eyelids off.
Soak your brains in the ocean.
Crawl inside a dolphin and dissolve.
Hope after the disintegration
you float away from
all the burping pooping pissing crying.
Slap the bottom
cut the cord
throw it in the incubator.
Suckle suckle suckle.

Feb 5, 2013

Career Fair

I was never one for shaking hands and schmoozing
with people in ties and power-suits,
acting like I’m really interested
in their company.                             Who wants to be
painting smiles on their face
all the time?
I watched my classmates                run around
from one tableclothed fold-out
table to another, holding folders full
of meaningless papers,                   pretending
they’re really something.
Enthusiasm eye-shadow
smearing from sweat.                      Gripping
the hand of the next maybe employer
as if their lives depended on it.

Feb 2, 2013

30/30 in the BAG!

Much thanks to all of you who have been reading. Chris, Eric, and I have all been working very hard to rearrange our lives and make time for poetry in our busy schedules. Now that it's over, though, the three of us have agreed to continue posting poems at least once a week. So keep checking back and reading 'em, folks! Because now that we've started, we can't stop.
Ha ha ha, but seriously. We really can't.


Feb 1, 2013

Fact or Fiction

At summer camp, a boy pulled down
his swim trunks in front of me.
I told one person, who told another person,
and word ended up getting back to him.
He said he never did such a thing,
and I began to wonder if I had actually seen anything
or had just imagined the whole thing.

Some mornings, I have such convincing arguments
in my dreams
that I wake up intensely mad at someone
for no legitimate reason.

When I read novels,
my scrapbook of memories becomes
photo-bombed by imposters:
Daisy Buchanan sits between me and my grandma
at my cousins wedding,
Holden Cauffield scowls at the camera
as he pins a corsage to my prom dress,
Hamlet proudly holds up
his pickle-on-a-stick at the state fair.

I find myself flipping coins when I blink;
debating what is fact or fiction;
if I actually saw a spider crawl
across the kitchen  table or if
it was just a stray car headlight
that had crept through the blinds
of my peripheral vision.
Then again, maybe it was both.
Maybe truth is always both,
like a piece of glass that refracts light
and then takes it back; a He loves me/
He loves me not
dandelion in a windstorm,
vacillating between promises
and letdowns.

After about an hour
of lying on my back at Pebble Beach,
patiently waiting, watching,
as my family saw dozens of shooting stars,
did I finally see one? Or had I just wanted
so badly to watch something other than me
tumble through space?
Then again, maybe I had been bathing in them
the whole time.

Here’s to Wherever We Are (The Greatest Feeling Is…) *

When everyone is in the car,
all supplies loaded and ready,
seat belts click,
engine purrs,
switch transmission into drive,

and we nudge forward
just a few inches
towards the highway
that will take us
to heres wherever we are.

* For all my brothers who feel everything click once we pull onto the entrance ramp.


When I was just starting to cut my teeth on reading,
foraging for books like an ant for sugar,
I came across Walden Two, a faded edition
from the '60s with a cover so old it could crumble.

I hated the book. I'm not even sure if I finished it,
or left it shamed on my bookshelf
where it stays today. But I wish now
that I had asked where it came from.

From which airport which of my parents bought it.
How they read its gooey utopian premise.
Whether their hopes had been as high as mine.
Whether I freed it from the shelf
at the end of a previous sentence.


A couch is the standard unit of fire progression.
At the Museum of Science and Industry, a small display about combustion
shows how quickly a a couch will burn under different conditions.
First, a warm bead in the corner. Flames suddenly slip from the cushions
Step one: visibility. The first panic.
You try every irrational thing to put it out: moving the couch,
taking off the cushions, stepping on them.
A certain point-- unnamed in the video, but painfully obvious--
is the point of no return. Step two. The couch
has ceased to be a couch, just soft debris,
the inside of a flame's mouth. When a couch reaches stage two,
the whole house does at once. So then you wait for stage three.

Jan 31, 2013

You Cunt Talk About It

There is no good word
to refer to women’s Bermuda Triangle
and not sound silly,
like a porn star,
or like a gynecologist.

Instead, most people
choose the nom de plume
like an unwanted child
kept locked in the basement.
“IT hides in the shadows.”
“IT wants more attention.”

The word “vagina” comes
from the Latin root meaning,
Sheath for a sword;
a fabric or leather scabbard
to protect or encase weapons.

Pussy Galore is a fictional
character in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.
At the beginning of the flick she tells 007,
“You can turn off the charm. I’m immune.”
In the end, she has sex with Mr.
under a parachute, thus proving
that no pussy is too strong to refuse
a man who introduces himself
with his last name first.

No one has a hard
time talking about Dick Cheney.
By the time H*llary Cl*nton comes
up, everyone throats
are mysteriously dry.

At the crossroads of spread legs,
it is a flower that blooms just beyond
the bridge of her arched back.
                NO! It is a Venus fly trap! Bits and pieces
from nature’s defunct comedy sketch!

It is a doorway.
Listen to the bell chime
with every satisfied customer
and new life to pass through!
                NO! It is a black hole! It snatches
light and matter! It is emptiness! It is darkness!

It is holy.
It is God.
Don’t you dare
say it out loud. 

Aren’t I Just a Regular Mother-Tuhreesa

There’s only two women working at the post office
and a line of us, ten people long.

One of them isn’t helping anyone;
she’s scribbling addresses on a thick stack of mailing forms.

She looks up at us as she massages her hand.

And I realize our spaced-out blank waiting faces
look perturbed and intimidating to her. She makes a big show

of how much her hand hurts. “Look,
it’s swelling up,” she shows her co-worker.

“Yeah, it’s tough getting old, isn’t it?” and she laughs.
“She always makes fun of me,” she explains to her current customer.

“Look at how many I have.” She holds up
the stack. “Yeah, that’s a lot.”

Up at the counter, the woman helping me go gets
my package. The other still rubs her hand,

trying to comfort her crisis. “I write a lot, too,” I offer,
“and when my hand cramps up, I pretend I’m doing calligraphy,

focus on making the letters
beautiful, graceful,

and it usually relaxes my hand.”
I don’t say any of this aloud—just sign

say thanks, and leave. In the parking lot, I carry on
the conversation: “Might help.

but don’t blame me if it doesn’t.”

I Challenge You to be Like Some People I Love

Tomorrow at the grocery store,
buy a gallon of goldfish and
eat them in one sitting.

over 300 lbs.
over your head.

Take Adderall, do a few lines,
pop some molly, play guitar all night,
and record something scintillating.

Have a severe anxiety disorder
since childhood, do well in school,
and make plenty of friends.

Be gay.
Don’t tell anyone for 22 years.
Tell your closest friends one night.

Teach high school kids, grade papers every night,
coach their cross country team, and train
to run a marathon under 3 hours.

Continue to pay your student loans off, work, live
with your parents, and when one of your friends says they need $100,
give it to them, no questions asked.

Raise two daughters well,
be good to your spouse, support them, and
still make time for your friends.

Jan 30, 2013


My parents still dream that I will be a rabbi,
although it's been years since I last belived
in God. Like an optical illusion, one of those
rabbit-to-duck transformations, I one day decided
that my prayers were to nothing, the tradition

empty. My parents refuse to believe me,
interpret my atheism as a mistranslation
of my inner voice of God, respond
to my too-eager insistence with smiles
of understanding which prove they don't understand


In my Sunday afternoon tutoring session,
I explain to my student the text we just read
about how there is no twilight on the moon.
It says that light holds onto the air,
and because there is no air in space,
there is no transition between day and night;
between light and darkness. And I’m just
thinking back to the morning:
about the lesson plan

of your metronome breathing,
the college ruled creases you graffiti
with your head on my pillowcase,
my cheek pressed against your chest
like a sturdy desk in study hall
that opens to reveal all sorts
of hidden galaxies. I point to the text.

“It is as dark as midnight
right after the sun sets,
as bright as midday in the morning.”

And I think about how glad I am
to not live on the moon: to experience the other-
wordliness of waking up
in blankets and embraces
painted by rosy-cheeked skies,
in air that has the ability to hold
onto light at sundown,
and find their way back
to each other in the morning
the way our bodies do.


It was 2nd grade recess.
Jimmy and I sat hiding
in the furthest tree from the school
that was still in the playground.
I had just finished telling him
about how my ma was the best
cook in the world, my legs pretzel-
tied around one of the branches;
then asked him what his was like.

He thought for a moment,
looking stony-faced at my beat-up
Sketchers, then told me ‘bout last April when
he found her passed out on the couch.
She was lying on her back, a bottle of booze dripping
from her left hand; an empty pill bottle bouquet
held to her chest like a beauty pageant winner.
He said he was so mad at her
for forgetting to pick him from school
that he punched her in the stomach.
Her eyelids suddenly sprung open,
she rolled off the couch, and
puked face down in her own hair.

She told him the next day
that her life had flashed before her eyes:
not like how you’d see it on a TV show,
but like a flash from a disposable camera
that she knew
wouldn’t be worth developing.

His Uncle told Jimmy that the apple
doesn’t fall far from the tree.
He never understood what this meant,
but remembered the awful
way his Uncle’s brow creased when
he looked at Jimmy
and said apple.
Since then, he decided
to never eat apples again,
and to climb trees as high
as he possibly could.

Jan 29, 2013

Remembering Hebrew

All the old vocabulary is shuffled
among a heap of useless knowledge
which has accumulated over the years like paperwork.

To speak is to fan the papers across a mental desk,
scanning frantically for a telltale watermark.
The words are all there somewhere.

If I were Israeli, maybe my ignorance
would make me a Gertrude Stein, a Kafka,
a Keret. I would feel out the failures

of language without losing its natural rhythm.
As I attempt Hebrew sentences, all that survives
is absurdity, what writers spend careers cultivating.

Reminders On

-Index cards
-Sticky notes
-E-mails to self
-Texts to self
-Kitchen whiteboard
-Shaved patch of the cat
-Backs of business cards
-Old receipts
-Dead light bulb
-Paper from empty bag of flour
-American flag
-Banana peel

The Crackle of Pig Skin

"The panic, the vomit."

The boy is told in 3rd grade about the Revolutionary War.
In 5th grade, the Civil War.
The teachers tell the class to underline the estimated body counts:
know them. A few commas between some numerals.
When he’s 12 years old he’s sent home from school early one day
and sees two planes crashing into two buildings,
two buildings falling,
people jumping from the buildings.
A few months later, a picture in a text book
of a man about to be shot in the street.
The man holding the gun looks calm.
Then the Holocaust, concentration camps, gas chambers.
High school, the boy’s told stories
of bound feet, ancient tortures used to make people talk,
decapitations, people being thrown in woodchippers,
monks lighting themselves on fire.
The text in the books is printed in standard fonts,
left to right in tight columns
wrapped around graphs, maps, pictures, facts.
Everyone who tells him sounds grave, though unalarmed.
A bell rings.
He loads the new information
back in his bag, throws it over his shoulder,
walks down the hall to Chemistry,
lunch, Spanish, Calculus, practice, shower, home, dinner,
where there are people talking about how their days were.
“Anything new in school today?”

Blue Eyes

He gestures to me, although we are only a few feet apart.
I take a conciliatory step in his direction.
"Does the 62 still run?" he asks. He has just finished a cigarette,
so he must have been waiting for some time.
"It should," I say,
and go back to leaning against the bus shelter.

When we board, I move to the back
while he settles into a handicap seat,
this man who waited too long for the 62.
We keep looking at each other over heads,
pretending to see passing lights and buildings,
always catching the other's glance flit by.

 He knows so much about me now:
I work in Brighton Park, or live here, or know someone who does.
I appear to be fluent in English, and not crazy.
I wear t-shirts sometimes, sometimes with jeans.
I am conciliatory. I know when the 62 runs.
I wear glasses. My eyes are blue.

Jan 28, 2013

I Have Nothing to Say

I have nothing to say
because everything I have to say
is the wrong thing to say.

I have nothing to
say because everything I have to
say is the wrong thing to

I say I have nothing
because everything I have
is the wrong thing.

Say nothing
because the wrong thing to say
is everything.

Because I have to say everything
I have to say the wrong thing.

Because I have nothing to say
everything is wrong.

I have nothing to say.


Daniel Dennett writes that when
we smell something,
we don't actually smell
anything. Or,
rather, we don't have the smell,
privately, but must be told
by physicians,
philosophers, neurosci-
entists, psycho-
logists, linguists what we sense
at the moment.
It takes a village to taste
a coffee, claims
Dennett and his empiricist
buds. And while I

disagree, I must admit
it's comforting
to turn the lonely task of
over to an external
intellect, to stretch stiff limbs,
to taste morning
coffee, to feel hot water
running down my
back, without the burden of
stretching, tasting,
feeling anything at all.

Jan 27, 2013


The room is dim,
lit only by small table lamps and natural light.
Wall art and knick knacks around the room
set a deliberate tone of calm:
even her skirt
is this sort of earthy tapestry
draped across casually crossed legs
as she asks me,

"Do you drink coffee?"

"Light roast or dark roast?"
the barista prompts me,
some folky, mountain music in the background
dragging the dust with its floor-length frock
across the afternoon café ambiance.
I choose the 8 ounce cup,
choose a table facing the window.

My gaze scrolls up
like a shade tugged at quickly
as I return eye contact.
She repeats the question,
“Do you drink coffee?”
She has a miniature rock garden
on a side table in the corner.
I’ve stared at it dozens of times
in previous sessions, yet
it still fascinates me. I try not to look at it,
try not to imagine the satisfaction
of slamming that table to the ground;
the unsettling letdown of hearing all of the stones
thud, only softly,
as they’d sprinkle onto the floor
of my therapist’s office.
“Did you have a cup today?”
rephrases her silhouette,
darkened by the gray light
sweeping in through the window
behind her.

The barista sweeps up crumbs
at the table beside me.
My mostly full mug of coffee
is room temperature, now,
and no longer warms my hands.
I examine the other patrons—
sitting calmly in front of laptops,
crosswords, or company—
wonder how their nerves can rest
so easily; not rage
cabin fever in their chests
like mine do.

My fluttering foot tap
must’ve given me away.
“Though caffeine may help
with clinical depression,
it is often worsens clinical anxiety.
You have both, so it’s tricky,”
she backseat driver reminds me. 
“So I have to choose, then?”
I ask her, irritated.
“Too much energy or none?
A heart that beats too fast
or one that hangs too heavy?”
    “What do you think?”
she cream-or-sugars me.

It is an overcast afternoon,
dressed with soothing tapestry; the sound
of grinding teeth and coffee beans.
My rock garden
of carefully-placed prescription meds
slowly submerges in the stream
of one more refill. 

We Continue to Continue to Continue

I bring you fossils from another era,
before the air was
                        man stink smog fog
in broad daylight—can’t see the sun’s rays right
when reptiles would play like
                 Gifts of stones and bones—
where the universe roams
on legs and wings and
from the mountain tops.
Counting stops hundreds of hundreds of
ages ago—no fingers to mark
the months years decades with.
No calendars to measure periodic table shit.
A French kiss in the morning mist
between two triceratops with their kids.
I bring you a breakfast sip
of water from the reservoir.
Because who we are
is organic patterns of dust
                                                come from busted stars.
You’ll be gleaning supernovas
in the light sheening off your scars.
Skin fades, disintegrates
            and re-integrates
with the interplay of everything
gone, come, come again.
I recognize the face of my friend
in the weeping willow’s sweeping branches bend.
And all things must come to an end.
Meteor, nuclear war—
   all things must come to end.


His mustache awning drips
with coffee and egg yolk
from the morning breakfast downpour.
Jokes huddle underneath,
hold their palms out,
catch the droplets in their punny palms.
They close their eyes, soak in
the sound of the thunder
knee-slapping the sky
as he takes a bite of toast.

Jan 26, 2013

Walking on Ice

Hands must be ready to fling out at all times--
loosely held in pockets, unclenched.
Feet lead toes first, your full weight
relying on only tested ground.
They must be there, those unsalted patches
that traffic has packed dome-smooth
like the dried mucous that hardens
under a wiped nose.

If it were up to you, you would slide.
You would kick up slush behind you running,
trip where you must, mix mud in an open wound,
heave yourself up, keep running.
You aren't afraid to fall, but being careful
is hardly a choice, just something your body
does for you, like a sneeze or a shiver,
signs of the brain's faithlessness
in your own best judgment.

He Probably Didn't Notice My Iraqi Eyebrows

Shortly before last call, I step out
to the beer garden, join
the circles of smokers puffing
up into the January Montana night,
snowy mountains surrounding us.

I bum a Camel from one guy
and after I hand back his light,
his friend starts talking about
killing Arabs.

Blonde kid,
looks like he’s probably
drinking on a fake ID, says,
“I wanna be back there.
I’m only here ‘cause
some brown motherfucker
put a bomb down
and I said
No No No No”—

on the icy ground in the middle of their circle,
he eyes the bomb,
puts his hands down
as if they’ll keep the blast from happening—

“and I got these scars
all up on my wrists
and on my hips.”

He spots me
outside their circle,
listening to him.
Points at me—

“Yeah, just say it to me.”

He moves quickly to me,
“Say it to me
one time, brother—
Fuck Afghanistan.”

And I would have said it
right then, no hesitation,
had his friend not grabbed him,
apologized, and
pulled him back inside.

Erasing My Notes from a Library Book

It is easy to identify which underlines are mine.
Usually they are serpentine, with three or four humps
in hushed mechanical pencil. I'm sure that I could tell,
 no telling how, my own store-bought Bic from another.
In the wake of erasure, when rubber debris
speckles the page and wedges itself in the spine's cleft,
there are still slight signs of the familiar lines,
still stray fragments of my handwriting--
the shell of a lower-case "e," an "A"'s left leg--
too muted for anybody else to notice,
but impossible for me to ignore.

Jan 25, 2013

Computer Class

“When you want the arrow on the screen to move up
you slide your hand up
with the mouse,”
I explain to her.
In a small, community computer lab
in a low-income neighborhood in Buenos Aires,
Maria uses Google image search for the first time.
This is the first time she has seen
her home town in seven years,
since she left with her three children
from the mountainous province of Salta,
to escape her abusive husband.
She describes it to me matter-of-factly,
the threat of his six-foot presence. Then,
transitioning quickly, pointing at the screen,
she describes the breathtaking presence of the tall
ceilings in the church at the center of town;
the walls painted with gold leaves,
the dresses her daughters wore on Easter.
“They looked like dolls,” she says, smiling,
“but we had to leave behind most of our clothes.
We had to leave so fast.”
Her eyes well up with pixels
reflected in the screen.
I am unsure what kind of tears these are.

She points to an image of a park,
wiping her eyes with her free palm.
“There I had my quinceañera.”
“It looks beautiful,” I reply.
“What color was your dress?”

She half smiles,
looking down at the mouse,
marveling at the technology.
when you want your hand to move up,
it doesn’t move.
Sometimes you can’t protect yourself.
Sometimes it doesn’t
fast enough.”
Her smile fades.
She slowly, carefully,
slides the mouse up,
puts the arrow over the X in the corner,
and closes the browser.

“Red,” she says.
“My dress was red.”


Marco’s been teaching me
this music theory.
Any time I start
ripping on music,
he’s just like,
“Fuck you, man.
You don’t know
what that does
for someone.
You don’t know
how it affects
their heart.
That sound
might be hitting
in just the right way.”

Jan 24, 2013


A guy who lived Back of the Yards
who thought of himself as a bard
discovered one night
he didn't know what to write
and that thirty-thirties are hard.

Pinned to the Seat

I used to see him and his wife at Paddy’s
every Sunday during football season.
I’d go in around noon to watch the Bears,
and they’d be there in orange and blue jerseys. Last time
I saw them, I hadn’t been there in a month and a half.
Right around halftime,

he holds up his left arm: “Wish
I didn’t have this brace on.”

“What happened?”

“I was driving my way back
from work on 35. Deer
ran out onto the road, got hit
by an oncoming car.
Split in half
and the head
came through the windshield
pinned me to the seat.”

“Was it a buck?”
someone asked.


“Did it gore you
with its horns?”

“No, no,
I was lucky.”

“Shit yeah.”

“I’m a lefty, so
I had my hand on top of the steering wheel.
It came through and hit me."
He slaps his forearm
like a buck's head would.
"The bone was stickin’ out my arm."
His right index finger demonstrates
bone protruding.
And the other half got jammed up—”
here he points along his bicep.

“How long did it take
till someone got to you?”

“Someone opened my door ‘bout a minute later.
She was a nurse.
I wanted to get out and lie down,
she told me
no no, don’t move.”

As he’s telling me this,
his wife pulls out a small stack of photos.

“Usually I drive a little Grand Prix to work,
but that day, for whatever reason,
I decided to take the Chevy.”

She shows me eagerly
half-a-dozen pictures
of a ’67 Chevy pick-up
covered in blood.

“If I’d taken the other car,
I’d be dead for sure.”


As a kid, I never understood
the curvature trailing behind planes
as they soared across the blue sky.

The ones flying away from me
drew white, downward entrails:
it looked like they were falling.

At recess, I sat in the sandbox,
mourning for passengers
who were perfectly safe;

digging and
‘til the bell rang.

Jan 23, 2013

Circulatory System

On the bus to work, my cut finger split its scab--
over a water-damaged page of Randal Jarrell, it capped
the last borrower's marginalia with unspotted ladybugs.
Some repurposed notebook paper held the flow of blood,
which showed through the page like a developing photograph.

At Chinatown, an old woman de-boarding
handed me a piece of paper: a single band-aid,
which she must have removed from its box stops earlier
(I never noticed her get on)
and was too nervous to hand over in transit,

observing me modestly hide that my contents were
leaking dun marks on the balding bus cushions.
I imagine her spinning the plastic-wrapped strip
around bony, purple-veined knuckles, perhaps hoping
that I would turn and smile and ask for help directly.

Now the bandage is imprecisely taped around my finger,
plastic wrapping stripped and trashed,
library book returned, work done, bus re-caught,
notebook paper in my pocket, ladybug domes smashed,
finger scabbed, driver retired, woman forgot.

Superlative Life

I want foam pits and moon bounces
and enough bushels of bananas to drown in.
I want to get married in white overalls then go
paintballing: courtship is a sport!

Every gathering should have
a coloring station.
Cotton candy venders and hair stylists
should join forces.

Gravity, my long-standing foe,
you’re ruining my bowling score.
Bowling should always have bumpers.
Bumper cars should always have bowling.

Has Shakespeare ever considered a toupee?
Has bigfoot ever considered donating to Locks for Love?
2Pac, Elvis, and Amelia Earheart are hiding out in Bora Bora.
I assume they have hundreds of secret handshakes.

One of these days I’m gonna start
a Bathrobe Friday revolution.
Vending machines will be replaced by piñatas
and road rage will be a thing of the past.

Every hat will have some Wizard of Oz
character knit to it, so we all look
like we’re slowly, happily
being devoured. Oh my!

bacon sister,
we have things to do,
people to pie in the face.

Shaquille O'Neal

is being swarmed by African children
who are jumping up and down
because he’s holding over his head
a stack of boxes
of AIDS medication.

In a laboratory at MIT, a few engineers
are about to solve our oil crisis,
right when Shaquille O’Neal enters,
stomps out all their hydroelectromagnawhatses,
and throws their transmiterographers
out the window.

Shaquille O’Neal, on a rampage through the streets
where he pees on homeless people,
forces our pets to give him fellatio,
and shakes the hands of Congressmen.

Shaquille O’Neal, travelling
from country to country, dropping bombs
on innocent civilian suspected terrorists
and single-assedly causing catastrophic climate change
with his farts.

The world watches in horror
as Shaquille O’Neal continues his campaign
of dastardly destruction.
No one can stop him.
No one can stop

Big Shamrock,
the Big Aristotle,
the Monster of the Midway,
the Big Shaqtus,
the Big Cordially,
Shaq Daddy.

Call him what you want,
but Shaquille O’Neal cannot be stopped.
The reign of terror is here.
This is how the world ends:
flumes of smoke
and screams of horror
siren from the horizon
as Shaquille O’Neal confidently
slams it home.

A Bed to Lie In

I bought this bed and bed frame
off of Craigslist.
Lying on my stomach,
under mounds of blankets,
I can hear the tinnish pings
of old mattress springs creaking
as I fullbody cough.

Two summers ago
when visiting my parents
I could only fall asleep
on a sleeping bag
on the floor.
For four years I’ve slept on beds
in dorms, on loan,
or on the ground.
Commitment is a sturdy wooden frame
you can carve your initials into.
It is initials that will stay +
-ed to yours beyond a month to month lease.
It means voting in the state that you live
not the state that you’re from.

Under the covers,
my eyes adjust to the dark.
I study the branches printed on the fitted sheet
that I bought at Savers.
They remind me of the trees
outside my bedroom window in Lincolnwood.
When I was sick, I would lie in bed
and watch the branches silently rattle
in the Windy City reputation.
Letting the day drift
across my white, metal bed frame,
I thought to myself,
I would be in 3rd period,
5th period, now.
My hypothetical states of being were limited.
Time was a mystery. It hid
in the darkest crevices under blanket forts,
moved through the tree branches
like an eternal hand-me-down;
like nothing is ever yours.

I could be at work,
cleaning my room, now,
I think to myself today,
sinus infection swelling in my eyes.
Every minute, we are paying our dues.

I am 22, still wondering
what class I might be in,
what bed I might be in,
what it means to be present.
Life is a commitment.
Commitment is life.
Time is a plastic, thrift store bag
that catches in the branches
for only a moment.

Before Snow

With the air so clear, the world outside
is hardly a world at all, rather a depth
of incredible diversity-- each street spans
as far as the last tiny building or bridge
where my eyeline temporarily halts.
The cold scrapes like sandpaper, my fingers
do not feel attached, everything is strafed
equally by the cold that slips between thing
and itself like a knife around an unbaked pie crust.
As the first flakes tip the grass blades,
one feels the grass to be chapped as lips,
but uncomplaining, without even a lick
to taste the coming scab. Nothing but you
needs reasons for the cold, and you can't help but feel
that the street's whole inanimate population
has felt sorry for you for a long time.

Jan 22, 2013

The Blessings of Nothing Special *

Beer glass on bar top.
Thermal long-sleeve.
Sunny Montana Monday,
national holiday.
I live in America and I’m glad,
not because this country’s great,
but because this country’s great:
hot water standard.
Stove, gas or electric.
I don’t have a disease
that keeps my body from digesting food properly,
but if I did, I’d have
drugs to help me digest my food properly.
I don’t need glasses
to read the newspaper.
But if I did, I’d have
glasses to read the newspaper.
I can read the newspaper.
I can read.
I’m I.
And sometimes that’s a heavy burden, this I.
Sometimes this I stinks like a canine corpse
and zombies like a fascist football commentator
But this I-ing is miraculous.
The hair on my arm that ends at my hands.
The scar on my left hand that gleams hardcore.
The fingers of my left hand that still have feeling.
These feelings.
I speak English,
and for some reason everyone else does, too.
This chicken ham sandwich is delicious.
Why is there a chicken ham sandwich in front of me?
Huh, universe?
Why a universe?
Why a Big Bang
and not a small poof?
Why not nothing at all?
That would be so much more sensible.
Nonsense, thank you
for blessing me with sense
enough to be sensitive
to what shouldn't make sense
and does anyway
so I can bow to these blessings
bestowed upon nobody special
from nothing specific
in no particular order.
The bartender asks
do I need anything else.

* Title taken from Paul S. Bellwoar's poem "Columbus Day"

Jan 21, 2013


Whenever, from the platform, I feel the vibration
of a barreling train, I hold the wall--
not because I'm afraid of falling
onto the tracks, or even of jumping. My fear
is of how I would respond to see another passenger
trip on a shoelace just as the full weight bears down,
or to see someone, toes curled around the platform's
blue edge, make the decision to end it all.
Would I be the person who
heroically instinctually humbly
leaps dives grabs pulls ducks?
Or would I simply cower, vomit,
pretend I have not am not will never see death?

Django Unchained *

“We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

In that scene where Jamie Foxx
does target practice on a snowman—

that means it was someone’s job
to drive or fly to some remote location

where there’s snow everywhere,
wake up before the sun,

and make like thirty snowmen.
Thirty perfect snowmen.

how Tarrantino wants.

My friend Ricky does that sort of work
for films, TV shows. Whatever

company hires him to work minimum wage,
over 12 hours a day, sweating and lifting and sprinting around and

doing whatever they want
so maybe eventually someone will take note and ask him to

call the shots.

Ricky, I hope when you’re post-holing
through two feet of snow in the middle of nowhere,

and you’ve only rolled 7 of 90
giant, perfectly spherical snowballs,

and the sun

over the mountains,

you feel
really, sincerely


*for Richard Brown

Napalm Girl

The sky fell shortly after lunch time.
The ground shook
as a city of soot and smoke
constructed itself before our eyes.
As the camera crew and I rushed
to the edge of the town of Trang Bang,
it became clear what had happened.
Two South Vietnamese Skyraider aircrafts
roared through the charcoal sky
like leaders of a parade.
We all just stood there,
holding our breath,
waiting for the assembly line of napalm victims
to blaze towards us.

Minutes passed horribly.
We weren’t sure if the faint howls ringing in our ears
were coming from the horizon
or from our own heads. Then
the dark clouds perched on the dusty road
sprouted faces.
Screams were everywhere:
on their foreheads,
on our clothes,
on the dismembered limbs
the townspeople held like bouquets.
My heart
rose out of my throat and slammed its fist over my trigger finger,
snapping shot after shot.
These people bear proof of the horrors of the Vietnam War.
The world should not turn a blind eye to this!
I thought, wondering
if the ash collecting on my lips
was from soil or human flesh.
(Screams in our mouths.)

Then, she appeared in my viewfinder:
a girl, about 8 or 9 years old,
naked after tearing off her scorching clothes.
She was screaming,
running towards me,
her arms spread at 45 degree angles from her body
like a wounded, featherless bird;
a horizon-sweeping wall of black smoke
billowing behind her.
After taking the photo,
I put down my camera,
rushed her to the hospital,
pushed us to the front of the line.
She survived
because of me.

By the time I returned to the United States,
the photo had already been seen by millions.
It won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography that year,
for spreading awareness of the cruelties of war to the world.
Time passed.
Back in Vietnam, Kim was taken advantage of by the government,
used as a propaganda symbol for the masses,
pulled out of college, from continents away,
to be a symbol of the victimization of their country.

 To this day, 40 years later,
she is still referred to as “The Napalm Girl.”
I saved her life,
yet transformed her into a martyr.
The worst day of her life is frozen in time
because of me.
She lives it over and over
because she survived.

she affectionately calls me “Uncle Nick,”
recognizes the historical significance of the image.
My camera was put in a museum.
Her life was put in a museum.
There is more than one kind of casualty.
She learned this better than anyone.

Jan 20, 2013


The apartment holds its nouns together well,
so well we we are starting to see sentences in them.
A book on the sofa, a blanket
draped across a chair, a window's stain,
a feather hanging from the cat's lip--
tight bundles of coincidence.

Even writing them this way, they cast
narrative tendrils that don't easily break,
like a patch of gum pulling shoe to pavement.
Shoe. Sandal. Rug. Boot. Shoelace.
Carpet thread. Curved grey hair.

The apartment has a part in this meaning-making,
drawing nouns as bread draws geese
and growing verbs like mold.


He struggles to sound it out.
"Do you know what this word means?"
I ask my eight year-old student,
pointing at the word
on the page.
Without a word, he jerks
his head once to the left,
once to the right.
I struggle to sound it out.

So Now

I get paid
to crumple up
children’s drawings
and throw them in the garbage.

Covered in ketchup,
drizzled with balsamic,
crayon hand tracings
and tic-tac-toe.

My favorite restaurants
when I was three feet tall
were any with paper laid over the tablecloths.
I always pictured

the waiter,
after we left,
taking the greasy salty paper off the table, and
upon spotting

my doodles,
he’d spend
a few minutes
lost in my world,

desperate to understand
who the characters were,
what they were doing,
what it all meant.

And as he began to understand,
he’d tell the other waiters
to come gather round:
“Look what this little kid drew!”

And before they threw the messy silverware in the bus tub,
before they went to collect the tips from their tables,
before they bothered to refill someone’s iced tea,
they’d enjoy

a few,
smiling moments,
glad to be graced

So now

before I set all the half-empty glasses on the tray,
before the silverware’s stocked up on the stack of dishes,
and before I crumple up everything paper and throw it all away,
I picture framing

whatever silly crayon patterns there are.
Take the two little wobbly hands
in my hands, turn the paper
into stained glass,

and replace
my aging skin
with these

Jan 19, 2013

Why So Serious?

Someone is honking behind me.
He wants me to stop gawking at the way
the sunset is gleaming off the skyscrapers and
go while the light is green.

I put on my hazards,
which tells him I don’t give a shit
about intersections, and where exactly
does he think he’s going anyway.

I told my therapist people often tell me
to lighten up.
This confuses me ‘cause I think I take things
way less seriously than they do.

If I pretend my job is really important
everyone’s pleased with me,
but if I talk about how
many people in Texas can now light their faucets on fire,

whoever I’m talking to usually gets
this concerned look in their eyes,
tell me take it easy. Stop being so
intense all the time. It’s not my fault

the most perfect place
in all of Chicago
to watch this sunset
happens to be

right here.


until it’s past.

Windy Night

The windowpanes catechize the coffee maker
in the faith of rumble and bang--
a burly, experienced inquiry,
a subtle, burbled response.
A tin can, Jewish, drags
a gutteral chet down the street.


Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

The weather holds me captive
in the damp, dark basement of this psyche:
steel gray palates cuffed ‘round my ankles,
(my legs in the holes where color should be)
shivering, bare branches beneath my skin,
(they hold up the sky, why not me?)
soot-stained snow camped out
across the dead foliage of my shoulders.
Time moves slower here.
Some days I crouch down,
peer out of the key hole,
wonder how everyone else
does it.

When There Are More Things I Should Never Have Said than Things I Have Left to Say

the moment will pass like a roach under the floorboards

even now termites are enjoying my words

hopefully there will be time to say memorable things
and no time to regret them

hopefully i will be over soon after, like dust clearing

and yet i have always enjoyed feeling in control

it’s one of my best qualities

i have stood at dark crossroads
at the strangest times with good people

i have found myself a symbol
of the best in this world

i have enjoyed wrong things honestly

some of what i have built still bears sharp edges

i have looked in more eyes than i know names

hopefully feeling in control is like control

i have parked by lakes after sunset

i will enter the ledgers of sin

Jan 18, 2013

Holding Up

After thinking hard about
the energy crisis,
the economic crisis,
the environmental crisis,
and banging my head against a letter to the editor
for several hours,

she takes my hand
and pulls me
to her massage table.
Has it ready with
a pink sheet,
a green blanket,
a purple pillow.
Tells me to get naked.
Tells me to lay down.

When she gets to my left palm,
she shakes it.
Let me hold your arm.
Let it fall.”

At the arch of my right foot,
holding yourself up for me.

Hard to stop
the unconscious tensing
around pain.

over and over.
“Give in.”

Bracing against
what hurts actually
makes hurt hurt more.

She shakes me again.
And again.
And again.

Lying face-down,
trying to let someone who loves me love me,
there’s guilt
and worry
and fear
and a need to

she tells me again.

And I just can’t.

The Shadow

There was a man
who, for no reason other than being human,
was cursed to wear the heavy hide of a wolf’s shadow
for the rest of his life.
For years he senses his predator
merely feet behind him,
hears it panting,
and wonders,
What the hell is it waiting for?

I was picked on in Hebrew school
for being weird.
One day, a boy spit in my thermos of tea.
I left class and hid in the chapel.
I tried to pray, but got lost
in thought looking at the framed artwork around the room
all depicting Noah’s ark.
How quickly we forget
what shook our bones
only a moment earlier!
My eyes moved clockwise around the room
counting how many rainbows I could find.

10 years later.
The man doesn’t even notice it anymore.
His back has grown so strong
that he doesn’t even check for the shadow.
But the marauder still follows him,
even though
the man forgets it was ever there.

A bad Salvia trip as a Junior in high school
made me believe my reality
was a sitcom that had been taken off the air.
Suddenly, these TV crew technicians--
made out of animated puzzle pieces
the color palate of my old, plastic Barbie playhouse--
began to tear down “the set” of my life.
They told me emotions--
happiness, sadness, love--
were not real.
I sat in summer school math class the next day.
shaking, holding back tears, so confused
how I was still alive;
how reality persists.

Ignoring his ­uninvited +1
improves the man’s life a great deal.
Eventually, his friends don’t see
the wolf or the shadow,
New people he meets
don’t even notice its muted snarls
or the footprints it leaves in the snow.

The image
of blurry, square, gray tiles
when my high school counselor
and the school social worker,
crouching on the bathroom floor beside me,
tried to talk to me.
They repeated my name
over and over.
It was right after a teacher had
come up to me in art class and said,
“Your friend, Kamila, is dead.”
Then that feeling like you just realized
that your wallet isn’t in your pocket.
You realize that you must have
lost it a while ago.
On top of missing this valuable thing,
you feel deceived for temporarily
thinking you had something
that you actually didn’t have,
and that you took advantage
of that peace you had
in your ignorance.
They said
my name
and again.

It is still there,
even though he doesn’t remember
that if had ever been a part of him.

Memories like these
don’t even cross my mind anymore.
A heart runs out of space for them,
at some point,
to make room for new ones.
The first ones to go are always those
we least want to acknowledge.

I don’t go to synagogue anymore.
I don’t use my real name anymore.

The wolf licks its lips.

Jan 17, 2013

Illinois Porn Fields

The fields pass like porn
beside his car window,
and the trickle of highway
down the crotch of horizon
is infinite, all-allotted,
but always unsatisfying.
If he were to park here
and walk straight until
something stopped him,
would he then imagine
himself already in St. Louis,
this rural nonsense passed?
Is that what he wants
whenever his tongue goes wet
dreaming of the earth's smooth
curve, how close it seems?
Is he chasing a soft sleep
near the Mississippi River bed,
or the golden areola of the sun?

Sinus Headache

It takes a lot
of concentration
to not cough or sneeze
when the barber
has the electric razor
on your beard.

Jan 16, 2013


It feels like standing in an open, unmarked field.
There are no mountains towards which to head, no creek to follow--
someone flying overhead by chance or bumping my in an all-terrain
would never even distinguish it from the rest of the scenery.
But if you soak in this nameless territory long enough
you find landmarks in it. You chase a rabbit,
trace a vein of redder earth, consent to your body's natural cant
and thus make of your world a series of unstandard ellipses.
You can never know when you have returned to the same spot,
set by the obsolete signs of latitude, longitude. But there is progress.
The redder earth has been traced. Boundary lines have been drawn,
and even as they collapse on themselves, as they will, spectacularly,
you have already worn yourself a spot from which to watch.

Bring Back the World on a Popsicle Stick

Coconut banana,
dipped in fudge.
This lick
licks away
the gloomy thoughts.
This lick has
sunshine in it.
And this lick
licks away the ozone.
This lick is a lanced boil.
Alley rocks in scabby knees.
The birds singing the ice cream man’s
jingling tune all day.
What kinda hoax is this?
Woodchips ain’t ice cream!
Tree bark’s got no sprinkles!
This lick is overpopulation.
This lick poverty.
Funny YouTube videos of people falling.
This lick has so many flavors I never tried before
I don’t understand what’s happening
on my tongue—doesn’t melt.
It’s a cantaloupe core
and gun powder.
Blood across a first-grader’s desk.
Lick away the tears,
the pop of a whiffle ball off a plastic bat
melts cold all over my gums.
Slurping up pesticides.
I like it when the whales get all slushy.
Are you sure this doesn’t have any high-fructose leukemia?
Too fast.
Brain freeze!
And the joke on this thing
isn’t even funny.

Hump Day

“Honey, I think it’s Wednesday again.”
“It’s always Wednesday.”

Jan 15, 2013


Against a frigid gust,
pecking at nothing, the bird
with no eyes braces.

Just Like Mom Used to Make!

Remember those hand-sewn, wool breathing masks
you used to wear as a child?

A pair of those in your pocket
and you could run all day
up and down the countryside

without having to stop
and cough the smoggy phlegm out of your lungs.

Then at night, you'd just soak 'em in a bucket of boiling water
and you'd be good to go the next day!

Don't you miss those times?

Well miss 'em no more!

With Mrs. Hannigan's Easy Breather©
you don’t have to throw away
your cheap, paper surgical masks every day.
These masks’ll last as long as you do!

Dear Consistency,

I’m sorry I didn’t
write my poem-of-the-day yesterday,
and I’m sorry I won’t be writing one
Building habits is hard,
and I know how you often get slighted
for your twin, Impulse.
But today, yesterday, perhaps
tomorrow, it isn’t about either of you.
It’s about life.
It’s about real jobs that need to get done,
real live people who will be affected
by the time I could have given to them
that I spent devoted to you;
head hard with overcrowding shadows
of commitments that went un-
followed through.

As much as I would like to make
daily prayer of pen to paper
a priority, Rome was not built
with similes; the Sistine Chapel
wasn’t sketched out with line
breaks; the person you care about
will never know the feeling of your lips
if you are too busy trying to find the words
to describe his. 

Jan 14, 2013

Say Grace

So here’s the issue
as I see it: you’re used to
wearin’ a seat belt. And it ain’t
Mr. Ford’s fault at all.
He just put a bicycle and a wagon and a train together
and wa la!
Maybe ‘s just we shouldn’t be diggin’ into the earth
any deeper ‘n six feet—
right depth for berryin’ folks,
right size for leavin’ your business in.
After that, leave the planet alone.
Throw rocks at the antelope,
run it to death,
but leave an offering in its mouth.
See, that’s the real problem—
no way to be truly grateful for your food anymore.
Sure, you fold hands say Grace, but
who’s takin’ the time to paint the picture
of the factory farm and hang it over their dinner table?
You say Grace but don’t see it risin’ out the smokestacks to rejoin the heavens.
Say Grace and don’t think about the trucker
seein’ the sunset over the Mississippi
crossin’ that big iron bridge.
No Grace in abstraction.
No Grace without blood on your hands.
And sure, there’s Grace in your microwave
but you don’t get it just by adding water.
You get it just by addin' water
after  you’ve carried the water
back from the river,
after you know how it all fits together
‘cause you helpt it fit.
But you, you just runnin’ a paper race
and no one wants you to even stop a moment
take time to think about your desk and your monitor
and where it all came from.
No one wants you to feel Grace,
just want you to say it.
‘Cause they know if you felt it,
you might just stop runnin’.

Broken Mousepad

Trying to wtrying to with a
broken trying trying to tyring work
with a broken brokepad a work
work a with trying to internet
wrestling with the intttttttttttttttttttttttt
net trying to work a broken
mousepad is is is is work is like wrestling
with the trying to work with a
broken mousepad is like
wrestling with the internet.